Starters: Bishop Sankey, 5-10, 200 pounds, sophomore, or Jesse Callier, 5-10, 211, Junior.
Second-team: Willis Wilson, 5-9, 188 pounds, redshirt freshman (walk-on) or Dezden Petty, 5-11, 225, redshirt freshman
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The rest: Erich Wilson II, 6-0, 194, freshman, Cole Sager, 5-10, 218, senior
Strengths: Well, they have options. None of these players could replicate what Chris Polk did last season, or the season before. And really, head coach Steve Sarkisian isn’t expecting them to do that. But Sankey and Callier have shown glimpses of the ability to make plays this fall and in the limited chances they had last season. Both are good receivers out of the backfield. Both are decent to solid in pass protection. We know that Callier is good at fly sweeps and toss plays. We’ve seen that Sankey can get yards running inside. Petty is a bigger back that could be tough in shortage if used. Willis Wilson might be a walk-on, but he can play a little. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and he might be better than Sankey or Callier when it comes to making tacklers miss and running through arm tackles.
Weaknesses: Well, none of them are Polk. And no one should even expect that the combination of Sankey and Callier and any other back to get snaps could come close to replicating Polk’s number. It’s not necessarily a knock on them, it’s a testament to how good of a running back Polk was in his three years. He either holds or is in the top three of every major rushing category in school history.
Each back has their limitations.
Callier has struggled running in between the tackles. While Sarkisian has always maintained that Callier had success doing that in high school, it’s yet to translate to the college level. Even in recent practices, he seems unable to find the daylight inside. And if he does see it, he isn’t able to get there before it closes up.
Sankey seems to have greater vision and a better ability to run inside than Callier. He isn’t going to run away from anybody if he does break free for a long run. Polk didn’t have blazing speed either, but he was strong enough to drag tacklers for a few extra yards. Sankey doesn’t have that raw power yet. He can break some arm tackles. But Polk took massive contact often at the line of scrimmage or in the collapsing hole and still kept going.
The remainder of backs are completely inexperienced. Petty and Willis Wilson have never played in a game, while Erich Wilson II has the talent, but would best be suited to redshirt this season.
Fall camp thoughts: While some people have assumed that the combination of Callier and Sankey would be effective this season, I’ve had some reservations. It boils down to how the carries are doled out and what they are asked to do. I really think Sankey should be more of the featured back. He is better on the Huskies’ “power” and “trap” plays inside. He sees the play develop better and finds and gets through the hole more proficiently than Callier. The Huskies aren’t looking 10 and 12 yard chunks, but 4 to 6 yard chunks. So much of their play-action passing game is being able to be effective on those inside runs. Callier should still see playing time, using him on fly sweeps, toss sweeps and even stretch plays to the edge. Both players are about the same as receivers out of the backfield. Callier might even be a little better at accelerating after the catch on screen and swing passes.
Sarkisian is going to play them both. He hasn’t said how he will split it up. It will likely be on feel – which running back has the hot hand or running well at the time. Neither back is probably equipped to be a 25-plus carry per game back, nor would they be successful. But eventually one of them will likely pull ahead of the other somewhat and get 60 to 70 percent of the carries.